ABU DHABI, UAE - Abu Dhabi has launched a new force to drive its business events ambitions forward as it looks for the emirate to be ranked by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) as among the world’s top 50 association meetings destinations in five years.
Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau – a new dedicated, one-stop entity within Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) – will support the growth of exhibitions and conferences within the emirate by forging closer links with the industry and providing financial and non-financial support.
“We will provide free, and non-biased assistance and support to professional convention, incentive and exhibition planners, corporations and associations so that they can bid for, win and hold conferences, major business events, business meetings and congresses in Abu Dhabi,” explained His Excellency Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director General, TCA Abu Dhabi.
“This is a clear signal to the maturing local and regional business events industry and its international counterpart, that Abu Dhabi is prioritising their sector as never before and is a move totally aligned to Abu Dhabi’s 2030 economic vision. The bureau’s formation also demonstrates our recognition of the potential of exhibitions, conferences and business events – the MICE sector – to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s wider tourism aspirations and generate significant economic impact for the destination through increasing visitor numbers, hotel occupancies, flights and other visitor and exhibitor spend.
“Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau is an enabler platform that will drive and support the development and promotion of business events throughout the emirate efficiently, effectively and transparently, in partnership with all its stakeholders. Its mission is to champion the emirate as a dynamic global business events leader.”
The bureau, which will have both expatriate and Emirati expertise, will provide a range of services to the industry including bid presentation support, delegate generation campaigns, local stakeholder co-ordination and knowledge, on-site destination advice, government support co-ordination and marketing assistance.
“We are targeting six major business wins this year, a further eight next year and a total of 10 wins during 2015,” explained Al Darmaki. “Our strategy will be to target in-market opportunities that will generate incremental business in the short term while building on international relationships for the long term.
“Our timing could not be better. We have our most competitive room rates ever – which can be a deciding factor for major associations and business event organisers looking to secure a host destination and our available hotel stock is now well-suited to large events,” added Al Darmaki. “Our distinctive advantages are competitive rates, intelligent pricing, added value and innovative product.
“In 2011, ICCA ranked Abu Dhabi 234 in the world for the eight major meetings held in the destination. We have more than doubled that last year and realistically expect to be within ICCA’s Top 150 when the rankings are announced in the next few months.”
The launch of the new entity follows a detailed economic impact study commissioned by TCA Abu Dhabi which showed that 19% of international business events visitors coming to the emirate were international and not resident in the UAE. These visitors spent AED 10,000 (US $2,723) per event while domestic visitors spent AED 640 (US $174). In 2010 the total economic impact of business events on Abu Dhabi was AED 2.4 billion (US $653 million).
“There are also compelling socio-economic benefits resulting from this sector including improved education quality across various sectors, knowledge and technology transfer, research collaborations, destination and opportunity awareness, the positioning of Abu Dhabi as a thought leader, the ongoing development of human capital and the catalysing of inward investment,” explained Al Darmaki.
In addition, studies commissioned by TCA Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) suggest the economic impact from business events in Abu Dhabi is expected to increase by approximately 7% per annum on average up until 2020 based on historic performance.
“The study findings make good reading all-round,” said His Excellency Ali Saeed Bin Harmel Al Dhaheri, Managing Director, ADNEC. “However, given the newly-formed Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, this can potentially increase at a much higher rate – by up to 10% compound average growth rate per annum over the next 10 years.”
The emergence of the new bureau follows a growing appetite for Abu Dhabi as a major convention destination over the past year and a huge surge in its major business events credentials following last year’s successful staging, at ADNEC, of the World Ophthalmology Congress (WOC) and a number of subsequent competitive congress wins.
“WOC 2012 was a watershed for Abu Dhabi’s international convention ambitions – it remains the largest congress held in the emirate with upwards of 12,000 delegates arriving at ADNEC for the convention – 80% of them first-time visitors to the emirate,” said Mubarak Al Nuaimi, Director Promotions & Overseas Offices, TCA Abu Dhabi.
“The Congress delivered significant direct economic benefit to the emirate of US $21,880,540 (AED 80,325,725) with an average delegate spend of US $523 (AED 1,920). Of course the return for the emirate was actually much more substantial once combined with the indirect economic benefit, such as spend in local shops on services, souvenirs and at attractions and tours.
"The business event visitor is traditionally a higher spender than the leisure tourist - sometimes by up to seven times as much," added Al Nuaimi. "They stay longer, eat in more expensive restaurants and often revisit the destination for family vacations. Our research shows that delegates to the World Ophthalmology Congress 2012 stayed an average of five nights."
The medical sector holds out significant opportunity for Abu Dhabi as it pursues major convention business. The emirate has already secured the 20th Asia Pacific Congress of Cardiology, which will be staged at ADNEC in 2015.
Hosted by Emirates Cardiac Society (ECS) and secured via a joint TCA Abu Dhabi-ADNEC bid supported by the ECS, the biennial scientific meeting represents the collegiate membership of 18 societies throughout the Asia Pacific region. It will bring an anticipated 3,000 medical specialists to the city, delivering direct, indirect and induced economic impact of US $16m (AED 60m).
The WOC case study has stood Abu Dhabi in good stead in building a portfolio of major events which now includes: this April’s World Travel & Tourism Global Summit at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers with over 1,000 of the world’s travel and tourism industry leaders expected and June’s staging of The Institute of Travel & Tourism’s annual conference – the blue ribbon event of the UK’s travel and tourism industry at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. Around 450 of Britain’s travel and tourism decision-makers are expected to attend.
“Both these major events were secured through joint TCA Abu Dhabi-Etihad Airways bids,” said Al Nuaimi. “We continue to work with Etihad, and other stakeholders, to bring additional major business events to our shores.”
Also on Abu Dhabi’s expanding major business events calendar are: this November’s International Conference on Neurology & Epidemiology, which is due to be attended by 600-800 of the most eminent medical practitioners in these specialised fields.
“We beat off competition from Paris, Milan, Macau and Boston to win the hosting of this event's first showing outside of Europe,” explained Al Nuaimi. “We have the facilities, infrastructure, service record and proven experience to now present our case against the longer-established competitors.”
In March 2015, ADNEC will host the 16th World Congress on Tobacco or Health - a triennial gathering of international advocacy, public policy and health research experts working together to achieve the goals of the world's first public health treaty, the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
The five-day conference is the result of a collaborative effort by Emirates Cardiac Society, the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi and TCA Abu Dhabi. It will convene 3,000 specialists from governmental and non-governmental organisations collaborating on medical, public health, and public policy agendas related to global tobacco control.
Another 2015 event scheduled for the emirate is the 70th Annual Conference of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums which will be held at the Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort (AWPR) following an AWPR bid supported by TCA Abu Dhabi.
The authority is also working to upgrade its Abu Dhabi Advantage incentive programmes aimed at bringing international events to the emirate and winning regional corporate meetings for the destination. The upgraded versions are to be launched at the Gulf Incentive, Business Tourism & Meetings exhibition (GIBTM), which will run at ADNEC from March 25-27.
“Last year some 12 conferences and exhibitions received support from TCA Abu Dhabi under its Advantage Abu Dhabi incentive,” said Al Nuaimi. “Another five submissions under the initiative’s dedicated corporate meetings and incentives schemes were supported and staged last year including the Schlumberger Interchange attended by 150 delegates; Toshiba Europe attended by 50 delegates; the Close Asset Group Incentive with 37 delegates; The Owners Group Abu Dhabi attended by 180 delegates and the InterContinental Hotel Groups Asia, Middle East and Africa Leaders Meeting attended by 400 delegates.”
To strengthen Abu Dhabi’s standing as a leading business events destination, Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau has partnered with several leading global communities and organisations including: The Energy Cities Alliance; the Future Convention Cities Initiative; the International Congress and Conventions Association; Meeting Professionals International; the Society of Incentive Travel Executives and UFI – the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.
Photo caption: HE Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director General, TCA Abu Dhabi and HE Ali Saeed Bin Harmel Al Dhaheri, Managing Director, ADNEC launch the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau.